Last night I knowingly made the mistake of watching Episode 14 of webtoon-based Kdrama Cheese in the Trap. I expected it to be a mistake because given how compelling the drama is and how in love with it I already am, starting Episode 14 would mean binge watching all through the Episode 16 finale. My expected aftermath was a sleepless night and a heart full of kilig and sepanx. I had a sleepless night sure, and sepanx in spades, but the swirling vat of kilig and delicious complex emotions I’ve accumulated for this drama were overridden by a high wave of hurt.
What’s up, Cheese PD? What did you do??
I fell into the Trap because of sepanx from a different drama, Goblin. I’ve been avoiding watching Kdramas for years (last one was 2014’s You Who Came from the Stars and The Heirs, ikr) because I know this system and I know how it consumes me. But Goblin happened, and I drowned in the feelings and fell hard not just for Gong Yoo and Lee Dong Wook but for the goblin’s bride, Kim Go Eun, too. Thus, Cheese.
And Cheese in the Trap was wonderful, just wonderful from the very beginning. It’s contemporary romance; a comedic yet thoughtful, quirky slice-of-life. It’s about a poor but plucky college student named Hong Seol (Kim Go Eun) and her complicated love line with seemingly perfect, handsome rich kid Yoo Jung (played by Park Hae Jin). The usual romcom elements are there, but it comes with a Hitchcock twist.
Jung, to say the least, is a complex character. He is a feeling and reactive guy but as a chaebol who had to keep up appearances and preserve a reputation, he’s been trained by his dad to repress his emotions. The result being what he cannot express in words, he lashes out in a stealthy way, manipulating people to the self-sabotage he feels they deserve. He has a sharp intuition when it comes to people, but he attaches this with the underlying assumption that people only approach him because they want something from him. He is sensitive about that, and when he feels he has been wronged or he sees a wrong, he reacts with a vigilante, godlike sense of justice, backed by the power of his money and connections and complete with the scary background score.
Seol, sweet and flaily and so adorably green, is sensitive and intuitive too, and she sees through Jung’s facade and openly dislikes and avoids him, even stands up to him when push comes to shove. This bothers him so much that he spends the year since their first meeting tormenting her through his usual means–by being the deftly puppeteer to those around Seol, such that the acts would be hard to trace back to him.
The drama opens with Seol refusing to suffer further in Jung’s invisible hands, and thereby deciding to take time off from school until Jung–her sunbae by one year–has graduated. This gets a reaction from Jung. He’s been observing her too closely for a while now and his initial wariness of her has developed into a warmer, more intense curiosity that has tipped over to attraction. And it’s a hero turnaround, starting with his finding a way to get her to stay in school, to his sudden friendliness towards Seol, his openness to help her and his adorable insistence to buy her a meal.
And see that’s what pulled me to this drama. Much of the premise felt so refreshing to me. The hero-heroine dynamic is such that we are in Seol’s head most of the time and we know she’s an unreliable narrator, because she can be a bit paranoid and she too can jump to conclusions. At the same time we are both curious and wary of our hero. Jung can smile warmly and display a childlike curiosity. We see him being sweet and thoughtful to Seol, but then there is that instinctive distrust we share with Seol, because we’re not sure if it is really safe to like him. A kind gesture from him is met with questions and anxiety instead of swooning. And we go through the same painful effort of peeling Jung’s layers and breaking down his walls together with Seol, and we are rewarded with his honesty and deep capacity to love just when Seol is. In the same manner that we see Jung easing Seol out of her shell too, drawing her out to be brave and more open about her feelings, and helping her learn to stand up to people who step on her. Him included.
Add to that already lovely push and pull is (of course, because this is a Kdrama) the second male lead. Baek Inho (Seo Kang Joon) is the reckless boy runaway with a shared painful past with Jung. He is pretty in the face and crude with his words, always angling for a fight with Jung as much as Jung resents him right back. But Inho wears his heart in his eyes and Seol responds to this. Only as a friend, of course, while Inho proceeds to fall in love with her while never expecting anything in return.
This. Right here. All of these things. Perfect.
I love Jung and Seol’s dynamics and how through the attacks that crash into them like waves–bullies, stalkers, copycats, harassers, thieves, past sins and present comeuppance, their own prejudices, their own similarities and differences–they learn what it truly means to be in a relationship. How to fight and how to make up and how to move closer and understand each other. Truly understand each other.
I love Inho and Seol’s dynamics too, because although my heart hurts for Inho, they connect wonderfully as friends. And despite the ease in their relationship and the oft-seen turmoil in Seol and Jung’s, I was Team Jung all the way, and I wanted Inho to stay her friend, as he himself has accepted is all he could be. I was also still gunning for a Jung-Inho reconciliation, which was looking apparent with how Seol brings them together despite the added tension of Inho’s feelings.
And then. AND THEN.
The off-camera controversy points to Inho getting more screen time than Jung, which I did not mind too much (though I missed Jung when this happened) UNTIL I reached the finale.
I could live with the dramatic car accident out of nowhere. That’s fine. But then it happened so late in the game, and with so little time left for Jung, our most difficult character, to further develop and reach a resolution, and I feel like this led to decisions that although make sense and are in tune with these characters, could have easily gone another, more narrative-ly satisfying way.
That Jung realized the root cause of his problematic reactions was necessary. This is critical to his growth. That he realized how his actions and their consequences–now catching up to him–not only hurts Seol but also puts her in danger is also essential to his development. I could accept that he would break up with Seol over it and would want to improve himself on his own before coming back to her (with much groveling, ideally).
But that it ended the way it did: Jung leaving and Seol not coming to see him off. Jung being gone for three years. Seol sending him emails that he never opened. Seol feeling like she can be victimized at work in the same way when she was a student, only now she couldn’t find the energy to care. Now her heart feels weary reaching out to Jung for three years with no reward and as consequence she feels more bitter by the day. That she also never reconnected with Inho, never saw him again because of apportioned blame.
And then, AND THEN. That the drama ends with one of Seol’s emails to Jung being opened. And it ended there, with the sound of Jung saying her name so fondly from a old, happier moment.
Arrgh. I feel betrayed. I feel like the growth of the characters, Jung and Seol, and Inho too even with his extended screentime, were all destroyed in ONE episode. I realize the production must have been thinking that the webtoon source material is still ongoing and thus they should resort to an open ending. But they should have understood that the source is just that, and since they are expressing the story in their chosen media–this drama–they were obligated to give the viewers a story that had a definitive and happy ending (because romance) in the span of those 16 episodes.
Breach of trust, PDnim, you’re on my list. My heart hasn’t hurt this bad since I cannot remember. I actually feel it being pinched and flattened until now.
Sigh. Do I regret watching this? NO. Uhuh, no. Watching Park Hae Jin and Kim Go Eun together and also with Seo Kang Joon was nothing short of wonderful. The chemistry is so palpable, and so sweet, and the relationships felt so sincere and real I could touch them and turn them over in my hands. The drama left me a lot of food for thought about life and fiction both, and although it could be argued I would’ve saved myself the pain if I just read the webtoon and steered clear from this adaptation, that would’ve made me miss the glory of Hae Jin and Go Eun together. It was real love, I swear. Even Go Eun and Kang Joon, platonically together. Because the couples were really, really adorable. So adorable that yes, it’s been a full day and my heart still hurts, and I had to resort to writing this.
There will be a Cheese in the Trap movie, I would expect with a totally new production team. Filming has wrapped, I think. Park Hae Jin is the only returning cast. If he weren’t there I might have written off watching the movie entirely. But he is there, and the actor had been very vocal about his disappointment in how the drama turned out, and in wanting to do justice to Jung and the story and how it was meant to be told. And I am with him there, so so much. I just wish the role of Seol was offered to Kim Go Eun too, because how am I supposed to love a different Seol with my Jung?
Well if the movie comes out to good reviews, I guess I’ll find out when I watch. Until then, I’m going to look for skinshippy BTS videos and end-of-run specials and replay all the fun and sad and romcomy and painful bits and scenes that all point to the happy ending we all deserve.